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Armchair GM - Buy-outs

Who should the Oilers buy-out?

Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Now that a baseline for the Oilers’ RFAs has been established and the Oilers’ salary cap situation has been outlined, it’s time to talk about "dead weight" and who, if anyone, should be bought out of their contracts.


Considered by many to be two of Craig MacTavish’s worst moves, Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin are at the top of the list for buy-out consideration. Together both players take up over 11% of the Oilers’ salary cap space and neither has been able to live up to expectations.

The other player I would add to the list is Teddy Purcell. By no fault of his own Purcell was signed (by Steve Yzerman) to a contract that he would never be able to live up to. The Oilers tried very hard to move Purcell into a first line and second line role last season but he just couldn’t do it. He is a strong third line winger but at $4.5M third line is tough to justify.

Player Position Age Salary Buy-Out Buy-Out Cap Hit
Nikita Nikitin D 28 4,500,000 3,000,000 1,500,000 x 2yr
Teddy Purcell RW 29 4,500,000 3,000,000 1,500,000 x 2yr
Andrew Ference D 36 3,250,000 x 2yr 2,166,666 x 2yr 1,083,333 x 4yr
Totals 12,250,000 / yr 8,166,666 / yr 4,083,333 / yr

The Goldielocks Zone

Let’s face it, this is rebuild 3.0, the Oilers fixed some very broken peices when they brought in Chiarelli and McLellan. Reality is, the addition of a new GM and a new coach plus Conor McDavid aren’t going to make the Oilers a playoff team in 2016. Does freeing up $8.17M this season at a cost of $4.08M next season really make sense? Does retaining the $1.08M of Ference’s salary a year after McDavid’s ELC expires make sense?

The numbers above represent an all or nothing approach. This is obviously not an ideal approach, but what is? How much of a buy-out cap hit is just right for the 2016/17 season while helping the players in the 2015/16 season?

Retained Salary

The answer to the questions above probably comes in the form of tradability, that eliminates Teddy Purcell from this list. At his current salary of $4.5M Purcell probably isn’t overly desirable but retaining salary (like beer goggles) may make him look better as the off season wears on. Even if he can’t be traded now a trade during the season could still occur. On top of that Purcell isn’t completely useless as a 2nd or 3rd line option so retaining him isn’t a complete loss either.

Not Yet

Andrew Ference’s contract is bad and the 2 years remaining on it just makes it worse. Trading Ference is probably not an option since Craig MacTavish gave him a full No Move Clause. Ference already has a Stanley Cup so trying to move him to a contender probably won’t convince him to waive that NMC.

The 2 years remaining on that contract make a buy-out unattractive (at least right now) because it counts towards the Oilers’ salary cap for 4 years. Sure it’s only $1.08M/yr but unlike a player making $1.08M you can’t bury a buyout in the minors to reduce the cap hit.

This isn’t the year to buy out Ference but he should be stripped of his captaincy and be considered only a 7th defenseman. As soon as the 2015/16 season ends the Oilers need to initiate the buy-out on Ference. The $1.08M still counts towards the cap but it doesn’t handcuff the team when McDavid’s ELC expires.

Process of Elimination

And that leaves one. One Nikita Nikitin, a player that was recommended by another fired GM. A player that even though he had a decent pre-season was never able to do anything in the regular season. A bottom pairing defenseman that was/is the highest paid defenseman on the team.

Plain and simple, Nikita Nikitin needs to be bought out. His $4.5M will cost the Oilers $3M in real dollars but his presence on the team costs the Oilers a top paring defenseman’s spot. It will automatically remove $3M from the cap this season while adding $1.5M to next year’s cap but it’s probably worth it considering the extra cap space it gives the Oilers.

What Next?

If we are to refer back to the salary cap tracker and adjust it for a Nikita Nikitin buy-out as outlined above, the Oilers would now have $17,342,833 to spend this season. If there is a chance to trade Teddy Purcell while retaining $1.5M the cap space would be $20,342,833. Either way the Oilers would be in a good spot when it comes to the salary cap and acquisition of UFAs would be a lot easier.

The number going forward in the Armchair GM series will be $17,342,833.